Blackburn Rovers 2 Manchester City 0: Kuqi puts seal on year of success for Hughes

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Already assured of their place in next season's Uefa Cup, Blackburn emphasised how far City have fallen short of that standard. So comfortable were the home side once they had their noses in front that even the dismissal of Tugay Kerimoglou with 30 minutes still to play proved only a minor inconvenience.

The Turkey international earned a red card for a crude, two-footed lunge into City's David Sommeil. That and the early loss on a stretcher of the defender Aaron Mokoena, whose injury happily looks to be less serious than was first feared, tempered Blackburn's celebrations but nothing could seriously dent the pride felt by Mark Hughes after his team achieved the highest top-flight points total by a Rovers side since the title win of 1995.

In bleak contrast, City could not have chosen a worse place to bring down the curtain on their season, given that they and Blackburn seem to have undergone an identity swap since this time last year, when Stuart Pearce's side were lamenting a near-miss in the chase for Europe and Rovers were happy to have finished clear of the drop.

City finish 15th, where Blackburn were 12 months ago, after a loss of form so comprehensive that Pearce admitted he was relieved the season was over. Having been ninth as recently as March, nine defeats in 10 Premiership matches have seen their fledgling manager's promising progress go into reverse. "A run of form like that would have sent us down if the season had carried on for a couple of months more," he said.

Blackburn took the lead when David James, in his 100th appearance for City, made a sadly characteristic howler, dropping a corner from Sergio Peter, the 19-year-old German making his first Premiership start for Rovers. In his mitigation, a collision with the defender Micah Richards did not help James but for England's likely No 2 in Germany it was not a happy moment. Zurab Khizanishvili was the man to take advantage, the Georgian defender scoring his first Premiership goal.

Brad Friedel made a fine save to deny Kiki Musampa an almost instant equaliser, but once Shefki Kuqi had scored the second, turning home the substitute Brett Emerton's low cross after 52 minutes for his seventh goal of the season, there was little further response from City. In a bad-tempered match, the attitude that earned them four yellow cards in the second half should not be confused with competitiveness. Sommeil was accused of spitting by the Blackburn striker, Paul Dickov.

Two months after being spoken of as a potential England manager, Pearce has seen some of the shine fade on his burgeoning reputation. "We have had a few injuries and the FA Cup defeat knocked some of the stuffing out of us," he said.

"For the last couple of months there has been a loss of confidence among the players. But what has happened has sharpened my focus on what we need to do to improve and I'm confident in my ability as a manager and a motivator."

He needs something of whatever Hughes has. "I'm delighted," the former Wales coach said. "It has been a great year. There is a real sense of achievement and a challenge to take it a step further next season."

Goals: Khizanishvili (35) 1-0; Kuqi (52) 2-0.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Mokoena (Emerton, 12), Khizanishvili, Neill, Gray; Bentley, Savage, Tugay, Peter (Gallagher, 81); Kuqi, Dickov (Pongolle, 63). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), McEveley.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): James; Sommeil, Dunne, Richards, Distin (Wright-Phillips, 84); Reyna, Musampa (Riera, 61); Sinclair (Croft, 70), Barton, Samaras; Vassell. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Jihai.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Blackburn Neill, Bentley. Manchester City Distin, Richards, Dunne, Sinclair.

Sent off: Tugay (60).

Attendance: 25,731.

Man of the match: Khizanishvili.